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School of Choice Considered for 2012-13 School Year

A lack of enrollment led district administrators to consider making Trenton Public Schools a school of choice district.

Making a limited school of choice district was among the proposed recommendations to balance the budget for the 2012-13 school year at Monday's board of education meeting.

Board members will discuss the recommendation further at a board of education meeting scheduled for April 16. The final budget must be passed in June.

Under limited school of choice, board members would have the ability to choose to allow certain grade levels to enter the district. Also, students who have exhibited bad behavior could be denied access.

Superintendent Larry Leapley said it was too early to say which grade levels would be allowed in the district.

Leapley said a significant decline in enrollment over the past five years contributed to administrators' decision to allow students from other districts to attend Trenton schools.

The district has seen an enrollment reduction of about 350 students over the past five years, which is equal to a loss of about $2.9 million in district funding.

Leapley said retirement costs and health benefits also played a part in decision-making.

Retirement costs are projected to increase from about 24 percent of the districts total annual spending to about 27 percent for the 2012-13 school year.

Gail Farrell, district business manager, said additional cuts could be made to balance the coming budget.

Farrell said board members could consider:

  • Eliminating three teaching positions
  • Reduction in transportation costs
  • Reduction in individual building budgets
  • Elimination of energy manager
  • Reductions in custodial budget
  • Reduction in athletics budget
  • Other reductions in non-personnel areas

Farrell added the 2012-13 expenses are less than those of 2011-12.

Recently, district administrators began looking into .

The anticipated revenue for the 2012-13 budget is about $23.4 million and, with the proposed budget, expenses are about $24.1 million, which leaves the district with about a $720,000 shortfall.

Leapley said the shortfall would be balanced using funds from the general fund balance leaving the fund balance at about $800,000.

Leapley and Farrell said the proposed budget numbers are likely to change and any changes to the budget would be discussed at the April 16 meeting.

Nate Stemen (Editor) March 27, 2012 at 12:49 PM
What are some of the pros and cons of making Trenton a school of choice district?
Christy Trombetta March 27, 2012 at 01:30 PM
The schools of choice issue has been brought up in this district for several years now and every year it is turned down. I hope it goes through this time. It can be a great program for the district and children from out of the district if it is managed well. School of choice does not mean that anyone that wants to come to school in the district can. Students must apply and the district can turn them away. They can limit it to only K-2 if they want and then students who have started in those grades may continue. It brings in money for the district and allows children who reside in a district where the schools are not as good to have a better opportunity. I think this would be great for the district given the financial strain they are in. It is also something that can be changed later on. If the district decides that it was not a good decision, then they can close out school of choice. It is worth the chance. EVERY other district in the downriver area is school of choice in some capacity. This includes districs such as Riverview and Grosse Ile that both have better ratings than the Trenton schools, which in my opinion proves that it can be done well.
michelle March 27, 2012 at 02:25 PM
I agree with Christy and just wish they would have done it before closing another elementary school. We seem to be at max capacity in the elementaries. I really hope they do something soon though. As Christy said, it isn't a free for all where kids from all over show up on our door step.
Ron March 27, 2012 at 03:54 PM
I realize that the our school district like everyone else is experiencing severe financial difficulties. However, "School of Choice" is not the answer to the problem for Trenton. Nor should we consider adopting such a program because they have done so in surrounding districts. If approved by the Board of Education, open enrollment in the Trenton School District would certainly be the beginning to expanding such a program to allow the acceptance to a much larger group of outside students. Consequently, the initial suggestion of permitting K - 2 students is nothing more than a smoke screen. How many outsiders would realistically consider putting their child into such a limited program for two years? Certainly the quality of education is an important factor, but so is stability. The budget problem needs to be fixed long term and we are not so naive to believe that open enrollment would be limited to 5 - 7 year old students. Let's get real. This is a bandaid solution to a much bigger problem and not a realistic solution to the long term success of the Trenton School District nor the community.
Christy Trombetta March 27, 2012 at 04:13 PM
Ron, when you open schools of choice up for grades K-2, that means that the kids who enter the school system during those grades are able to remain in the districts for the rest of their school years. It just means that no-one would be allowed to enter the school via school of choice after 2nd grade. I also think the view that we should not allow outside students in is elitist and racist. There are many, many students outside of the Trenton School district that are well-deserving of a Trenton education. And to keep sacrificing schools over low enrollment is ridiculous. Had Taylor Elementary remained open, I probably would be sending my children there as opposed to St. Joe's where they go now. I will not send my Kindergartner to a class with 28 other kids. That is not a good practice and is not in the best interest of our children. The lower our enrollment gets, the less teachers we can employ, and the higher those class numbers get. Schools of Choice can be a long term solution and has worked well for many districts. In districts that is has not worked well, it is the result of poor management of the program. This can be done right and Trenton Schools can maintain the quality education and reputation they have had for years (although it has declined in recent years) if they do it the right way.
Stefanie Nicole Lewis March 27, 2012 at 06:19 PM
Please don't become school of choice! I will send my kid to private school. Three words: Look at Southgate!
Nate Stemen (Editor) March 27, 2012 at 06:38 PM
@Stefanie: What are some of the problems facing Southgate Public Schools as a result of school of choice?
bmurdock March 27, 2012 at 07:45 PM
I would like to see families move into Trenton in all the empty houses that we have... Be committed to our community not just our school district...
sine-of-the-times March 28, 2012 at 02:21 AM
I agree with bmurdock, great thought. Please also remember that the michigan legislature took $1.8billion from schools to pay for a tax break for businesses. Plus we have a surplus now that the governor is only handing out based on test scores...Trenton got $0, despite our test scores being some of the highest in the area. There is something VERY wrong with how our schools are being funded no matter what angle you want to look at it from. Schools cost money to run. I hate to cheapen the experience in any way for my kids or yours, and that is what we are still being asked to do. Shifting pupils from school to school has not made anyone better off, and it is not the right thing to do even if everyone else is doing it.
Judi Blueye March 28, 2012 at 02:29 AM
It's very hard for people to move right now, in case you haven't noticed.
Ron March 28, 2012 at 02:32 AM
It would appear that Christy has all the answers for all the wrong reasons. Her children go to a private school based on what they feel is in the best interest of their family. Many families make the same decision every year for one reason or another. However, many cannot afford such an option. Consequently, Christy feels that it is the responsibility of Trenton tax payers and the school district to educate every child simply because they are deserving a quality (Trenton) education. This idea is beyond belief. And to make the assertion that my comments were racist is completely untrue and slanderous. An apology would therefore be in order. I stand corrected knowing that "School of Choice" as suggested for children in grades K - 2 would remain Trenton students beyond that period. Over time enrollment would certainly increase resulting in additional student funding. However, this is not the answer to long term financial stability for the district. Changes must be make in order to operate within the budget regardless of the number of students. Simply increasing enrollment by whatever means is not the solution. Fix the problem or an emergency manager will and the state appears very eager to send them in.
Ron March 28, 2012 at 02:48 AM
Wendy, great comments and I couldn't agree more. Unfortunately the governor seems to have control at this point and can pretty much do whatever he wants to do and certainly caters to big business. I personally have not agreed with a lot of decisions that he has made. But that's a topic for another day.
Christy Trombetta March 28, 2012 at 12:00 PM
The budget problem and the way education is funded in Michigan is certainly a problem and by no means am I suggesting that becomming a school of choice district will solve all of our problems. It is, however, a step in the right direction to increasing the financial stability in our district. To Ron, your original comments suggest, and the common opinion against schools of choice is, that we need to keep the riff raff out of our schools. If that is not what you meant, then I do apologize, however that's how it came across to me when you stated "open enrollment...would certainly be the beginning to...allow the acceptance...of outside students. I am a Trenton resident and I moved into this district 10 years ago because I wanted my children to go to school here. Yes, I made a decision to send my children elsewhere because it is in their best interest right now and I am lucky enough to be able to make that choice. I certainly understand that not everyone can afford to make that decision, nor am I suggesting that they should. I want the Trenton schools to be what they once were. I want to be able to send my children to school with the children that live around us and have the same type of experience that I had growing up going to a neighborhood school.
Christy Trombetta March 28, 2012 at 12:00 PM
I have worked in the public school system for over 10 years and I have seen good and bad practices with school of choice over the years. I whole-heartedly believe that a well-run school of choice program in our district could be a very good start to improving our financial situation in the district. By sitting back and doing nothing(ie waiting for the government to improve the situation), we are just going downhill. We may not like the way things are, but we're not willing to make any changes to remedy it. We have been doing nothing for years. It's time to make a change.
michelle March 28, 2012 at 05:14 PM
This really would be optimal. I wish we could get more young families here too!
Ian March 29, 2012 at 01:50 AM
There are a lot of good points being made here, and some which I strain to agree with. The facts seems to be that: Enrollment is decreasing and will continue to decrease as Trenton shrinks in population or people seek other sources of education based on Trenton's perceived lack of funding causing deficiencies in the classroom. Funding is decreasing and will continue to decrease based on per student funding cuts and decreased enrollment. The cost of operation and size of staff needed to support the school regardless of enrollment will remain relatively static if current levels of quality are to be maintained. The evident solutions to this problem are to A) increase enrollment or B) decrease the cost of operation. In all light, A. appears to be the best choice. Why? Because B. is neither a sustainable nor even a completely attainable goal. The school system preferably has a static amount of physical resources which require a static cost to maintain. Examples of such are the buildings, the land on which the buildings rest, electricity, heating and cooling, janitorial services, and administrators. When the enrollment in the schools changes, the cost of maintaining this will change only slightly if at all unless the enrollment becomes larger than the systems capacity, which we are well below, or if the enrollment dips sharply and the amount of resources (like elementary schools) is reduced. This really only leaves option A.
Ian March 29, 2012 at 02:05 AM
For option A, increasing enrollment, you can obviously try to get more students from the community to enter the school system, or open ourselves to the school of choice option. At the moment, it seems that people removing their children from TPS are doing so because we have degraded in quality due to budget deficits. Because we have no more funding to spare, there is little chance that we will be able to attract people that have likely already come and gone and with the housing market the way it is, people won't be moving here either. This idea is a dead end. So, that leaves us with limited open enrollment. The option strongly deserves consideration. As stated earlier, the school system has an optimal number of students that it can serve. If we are at that number, we get the most funding and can the highest of quality education to the most people. Trenton's population has decreased by 10% in the last 10 years, this means that we can no longer reach this enrollment number with the students from our area alone. Allowing more students in could actually help INCREASE the quality of a Trenton education in addition to alleviating our budget problems. Besides that, it really is ridiculous to wish to deny people from the surrounding area simply because they aren't from here. It spreads from elitist ideals 90% of the time and bodes poorly for the diversity and progressive status a community should have. A limited enrollment K-2 is really an optimal system. It is
Ian March 29, 2012 at 02:16 AM
really an optimal system. It has been proven to work in Grosse Ile just fine. It encourages people that wish to have their child be part of the Trenton education to not only enroll their student, thereby increasing vital count day numbers, but to enroll them early so that they are committed to the process so that the numbers stay there, too. In addition, the increased commitment means we won't waste resources on people enrolling and then suddenly leaving after a few months and causing administrative troubles along the way. I seriously don't see a disadvantage to the system so long as it is monitored to prevent any potential abuse, which seems hard to come by in my opinion. The fact that they have to enroll early even prevents the possibility that teachers will be distracted trying to catch people with slower pacing up, too, because they will have been there from the start. So, don't consider this idea. Accept that it is the best way to save our district from collapse. If we have to decrease our school systems foot print any farther from the lack of funding, it will eventually become more financially and academically beneficial to send the students out of town. - Current Trenton High School Junior
Christy Trombetta March 29, 2012 at 11:36 AM
Very well said, Ian.
Nate Stemen (Editor) March 29, 2012 at 01:13 PM
These are some really great points Ian. We are always looking for new bloggers here at Trenton Patch. Would you be interested in blogging for us? It would be great to have someone on the inside of Trenton Public Schools reporting what he sees on a regular basis. I think it could help a lot of people understand your argument better. After all, the one source of information people tend to ignore is the student body. Here's the application. I look forward to hearing from you. http://trenton.patch.com/blog/apply

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